Ensuring the Resiliency of Our Communications Infrastructure

Imagine a residential area with tens of thousands of residents suffering the communications blackout for more than 48 hours. Not only were residents unable to send emails or make telephone calls, their banking system shut down, causing people unable to make credit card dealings or withdraw money from an ATM. This is not a hypothetical. It happened last month in the North Marinas Islands, a U. H. territory in the Western Pacific Sea. The cause: a break in an undersea cable connection. While this happened on the other side of the globe, it’s a cause for concern for all of us. Undersea cables carry more than ninety five percent of all U. S. international voice, data, and Internet traffic. Today, I’m circulating a proposal to my colleagues that would enhance the security and reliability of this key piece of the particular Internet’s physical infrastructure.

There are approximately 60 submarine (or “undersea”) cables that offer connectivity between the mainland U. H. and consumers in Alaska, The hawaiian islands, Guam, American Samoa, the North Marianas, Puerto Rico, and the U. S. Virgin Islands, as well as almost all connectivity between the U. S. and the rest of the world. Many submarine cables are jointly owned and operated by multiple companies.

While submarine cables are vital to America’s economic and national security, licensees currently only report outages on an ad hoc basis, and the information that we receive is too limited to be of use. In comparison, other communications providers — including wireline, wireless, and satellite —are required to report outages to the FCC’s Network Outage Reporting System (NORS).

What makes outage reports important? Think of the saw about how “you can’t manage what you don’t measure. ” The data we collect from NORS has allowed us to analyze outage trends and recommend solutions to make these systems more resilient and reliable. We should do the same for these undersea cables.

The particular FCC needs to get timely information regarding submarine cable outages, with sufficient detail to understand the nature and effect of any damage and interruption to communications, help mitigate any impact on emergency services and consumers, and assist in service restoration. A lot more consistent reporting on submarine cable connection outages will improve the FCC’s ability to spot trends, address systemic issues, and inform policy making.

At following month’s open meeting, the Commission will consider a draft NPRM that proposes to require submarine cable connection licensees to report significant outages in appropriate detail through NORS, where other communications providers already report outages.

Modern communications networks are usually increasingly interconnected. The failure of the single cable can have a ripple impact on multiple networks. Better reporting regarding the status of undersea cables will help us better anticipate and prevent disruptions to service.

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